FaithWorld

Religious tension marks Sept. 11 anniversary

tension 1Religious tensions are overshadowing the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States where President Barack Obama urged a Christian preacher to abandon a plan to burn copies of the Koran.

And a day ahead of Saturday’s ninth anniversary, a report warned that the United States faced a growing threat from home-grown insurgents and an “Americanization” of the al Qaeda leadership. (Photo: Outside the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida September 10, 2010/Scott Audette)

On Friday, Obama appealed to Americans to respect the “inalienable” right of religious freedom and said he hoped the preacher would abandon his plan to burn the Muslim holy book, saying it could deeply hurt the United States abroad.

News of the plan has outraged Muslims around the world and triggered violent protests in Afghanistan in which one protester was shot dead. Thousands of Afghans demonstrated in the northeast of the country for a second day on Saturday.

tension 2Pastor Terry Jones, of the obscure Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has backed off a threat to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in which nearly 3,000 people died.

NY Islam uproar shows lack of Muslim leaders, prompts more interfaith support

center support 2 (Photo: Demonstrators for and against the proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque in front of the site in New York, August 25, 2010/Lucas Jackson)

Among the most visible supporters of a proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site have been the city’s Jewish mayor and a libertarian congressman from faraway Texas.

Notably absent from the controversy has been a nationally recognizable Muslim American leader in the style of the late Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke for blacks in the civil rights movement, Cesar Chavez who represented Latino migrant workers or, however briefly, Harvey Milk who stood up for gay rights.

Muslim scholars and political groups have spoken up forcefully in defense of the proposed $100 million cultural center, saying it should be protected by basic tolerance and the constitutional right to freedom of religion. But the Muslim statements have failed to capture national attention, much the way their repeated condemnations of terrorism and specific attacks by Islamist extremists have failed to reverberate in the American consciousness.

What would a compromise in NY Muslim centre dispute look like?

nymosque 1One requirement for a reasonable debate is to define the terms being used. The emotional dispute over the planned Cordoba House in New York, in which supporters and opponents are struggling over how to even describe it, is a case in point. Will the boxy modern building that developers have presented and local zoning boards have accepted be a Muslim cultural centre including a mosque? Or, as critics allege, a “Ground Zero mosque”, a term that evokes visions of  domes and minarets rising over the ruins of the World Trade Center. The facts speak for the first option, which is why we have chosen it for our description of this project.

A new element of confusion has entered the debate with calls for a compromise in this dispute. New York Governor David Patterson started this last week, saying that moving the project away from its proposed location would be a “a magic moment in our history” and offering state help to find a new site. He bemoaned the emotional level of the debate on Tuesday: People can’t hear each other anymore … I find it heart-wrenching. I hate to see New Yorkers squaring off against each other.”

nymosque 2New York’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan unexpectedly stepped in to welcome Paterson’s proposal and offer his services as a mediator. He first seemed to support the call for moving the project, but some media thought that seemed less clear after he met Paterson on Tuesday. No matter how sincere their intentions are, their effort to find common ground here is fraught with complications. A central problem, the  lay Catholic magazine Commonweal in New York argued, is that “calls for the Muslim organizers to change their plans out of ‘sensitivity,’ however well-meaning, would allow the prejudices of some to define the terms of freedom for others.”

Muslim center dispute sparks New York rallies — article link, video, photo gallery

mosque rally 1 (Photo: Muslim center supporter at a New York rally, August 22, 2010/Jessica Rinaldi)

Supporters and opponents of a proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site staged competing rallies in downtown Manhattan on Sunday, kept apart by police and barricades.

Hundreds of opponents chanted “No Mosque,” sang patriotic songs and waved photographs of violent attacks by Islamic extremists.  One sign read: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all the terrorists were Muslim.”

NYC Muslims want more space to pray/ Latest links to Islamic center dispute

mosque space 1 (Photo: Manhattan building now on site of proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque, August 17, 2010/Lucas Jackson)

Muslims in lower Manhattan who have prayed in a crowded basement or in the streets say they are not looking for confrontation with opponents of a new mosque. They simply need the space.

Some New Yorkers traumatized by the September 11, 2001 attacks have emotionally opposed a proposed Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Republican politicians seeking to wrest control of Congress from Democrats in November elections have seized on the issue.

The controversy has sucked in President Barack Obama and stirred debate about the meaning of religious freedom in a nation founded in part on that principle. Competing rallies for and against the Muslim project are planned to mark this year’s ninth anniversary of the attacks.

Chrystia Freeland: Mosque madness and midterms

mosque screengrab

On “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour, Reuters global editor at large Chrystia Freeland says President Barack Obama’s speech in support of the Cordoba House cultural centre and mosque that would occupy a building two blocks from Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan displays leadership and conviction. (Photo: videograb/This Week/ABC)

Here is an excerpt from the broadcast on Sunday August 15:

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Did Bloomberg inspire Obama’s speech about NYC Muslim cultural centre?

obama mosque 1There was an interesting echo at the White House when President Barack Obama came out in favour of the proposed Cordoba House Muslim cultural centre near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York (see our news report here).  Controversy about the project, which opponents call the “Ground Zero mosque,” has been swirling in New York for weeks and went national recently when Republicans Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich joined the critics’ campaign. But until the annual Iftar dinner he hosted on Friday evening, the president had kept out of what his spokesman called “a matter for New York City and the local community to decide.” (Photo: President Obama addresses White House Iftar meal, 13 August 2010/Jason Reed)

Reading his comments, it looks like Obama not only let NYC authorities decide the issue — favourably for the project, as it turned out, as both the local community board and the landmarks commission voted overwhelmingly to let it go ahead. He may also have taken pointers for his speech from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has stood solidly behind the project despite all the emotion it has stirred up.

obama mosque 2After the Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the last administrative hurdle to the plan — rejecting the opponents’ bid to protect the 1857 building standing on the proposed Cordoba House site from being torn down — Bloomberg delivered a forceful speech on August 3 defending two long-standing American traditions.

Mecca Mean Time? World’s biggest clock ticks in Islam’s holiest city

clock saudi 1

A giant clock on a skyscraper in Islam’s holiest city Mecca began ticking on Wednesday at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, amid hopes by Saudi Arabia that it will become the Muslim world’s official timekeeper.

The Mecca Clock, which Riyadh says is the world’s largest, has four faces each bearing a large inscription of the name “Allah.” It sits 400 metres up what will be the world’s second-tallest skyscraper and largest hotel, overlooking the city’s Holy Grand Mosque, which Muslims around the world turn to five times a day for prayer.

clock saudi 2

The clock tower is the landmark feature of the seven-tower King Abdulaziz Endowment hotel complex, being built by the private Saudi Binladen Group. “Because it based in front of the holy mosque the whole Islamic world will refer to Mecca time instead of Greenwich. The Mecca clock will become a symbol to all Muslims,” said Hashim Adnan, a resident of nearby Jeddah who frequently visits Mecca.

New York mosque opponents react, mayor defends religious freedom

nyc mosque 1A planned mosque and Muslim cultural center near the site of the September 11 attacks, which has triggered national debate, faces a new hurdle after a lawsuit was filed aiming to block the controversial project. (Photo: Demonstrator holds a sign in support of the proposed Cordoba Mosque to be built in New York, July 13, 2010/Keith Bedford)

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday by the American Center for Law & Justice in Washington whose mission is defending religious freedom, challenges Tuesday’s decision by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission not to grant landmark status to the 1857 Italianate building currently on the site.

“This issue has nothing to do with religious freedom,” said Brett Joshpe, a lawyer for ACLJ. “Given what the (planned new) building represents, the placement of the project at that location is inappropriate and inflammatory.”

INTERVIEW – NY imam plans a “Muslim Y,” not a “Ground Zero mosque”

nyc mosque 1When Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf decided to build a Muslim cultural centre in lower Manhattan, the model he chose couldn’t have been more mainstream American — the Young Men’s Christian Association chapters found in cities across the United States.

The institution he had in mind was the 92nd Street Y, a Jewish adaptation of the YMCA concept that is one of New York’s leading addresses for residents of all religions or none to visit for public lectures, debates, concerts or educational courses. (Photo: A demonstrator at a Landmarks Commission’s hearing on the proposed Muslim community center in New York, July 13, 2010S/Keith Bedford)

But Rauf’s project is better known here now as the “Ground Zero mosque,” after the term for the World Trade Centre site. Families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and conservative politicians have mounted an emotional campaign to block it, claiming that locating it only two blocks north of the site was a provocation.